Spat over Puerto Rico could cost Wright-Patt $4 million worth of projects

Sen. Rob Portman voted for the GOP bill, but says he will do “everything I can to ensure these critical projects at Wright-Patterson are funded.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown is blasting an Air Force threat to cut $4 million in funds for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to pay for disaster relief at a Florida Air Force base after the Senate failed to pass an emergency aid bill for disaster victims Monday night.

Brown and other Senate Democrats opposed the $13.45 billion legislation after Senate Republicans introduced a bill that would reduce emergency relief money for Puerto Rico from a bill that the House passed in January. Puerto Rico continues to deal with the effects of two hurricanes, Irma and Maria, which devastated the island in 2017.

ExploreRELATED: Air Force cuts nearly $4 million in projects at base

Republicans, meanwhile, voted down a procedural motion on a bill that included more money for Puerto Rico. That bill closely mirrored what the House passed in January. For his part, President Donald Trump has supported the GOP bill but argued that the U.S. already has paid enough for Puerto Rico disaster relief.

Even before the Senate voted, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson threw down a gauntlet: Should the Senate fail to pass emergency relief, she was prepared to strip money from 61 projects in 18 states to get enough money to repair Tyndall Air Force Base, which is near Panama City in the Florida panhandle. The base received “catastrophic” damage as a result of Hurricane Michael in October and was hit by a tornado in January.

“61 projects in 18 states are not going to happen b/c we don’t have disaster supplemental funding for @TeamTyndall,” she tweeted last Wednesday, including a list of affected projects. The projects are at-risk because the defense department has not yet awarded contracts for them, and a defense spokesperson characterized them as “deferred.”

The canceled projects at Wright–Patt include $3.15 million to replace a cooling tower and condenser water lines serving three buildings for the Air Force Research Laboratory and a renovation for Wright-Patt’s Building 15 for $802,000.

Brown blasted the decision to strip money from Wright-Patt to pay for Tyndall Air Force Base, saying the Senate should’ve simply passed the House emergency appropriations bill.

“This never should have happened,” he said. “The House of Representatives passed disaster funding months ago and the Senate could pass it today if President Trump and Congressional Republicans would stop playing political games with Puerto Rico and do their jobs.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R–Ohio, who voted for the GOP version of the bill, said Tuesday he was “aware” of the decision to divert money from projects at Wright–Patterson to support recovery at Tyndall and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, which recently suffered flooding.

“I understand that in the absence of supplemental funding the secretary must make hard choices to maintain operational readiness,” he said, saying he voted for funding that “could help avert this situation and restore these critical projects to Wright Patterson.”

“I will work with the secretary’s staff to assess the impact to Wright Patterson and do everything I can to ensure these critical projects at Wright Patterson are funded,” he said.

Rep. Mike Turner, a Dayton Republican whose district includes the base, said the Air Force “has been forced to cannibalize its own funding because of hurricane damage to U.S. Air Force bases.”

“Funding that would solve this is currently stalled in the Senate,” he said. “When this funding becomes available, we will have the opportunity to seek replacement dollars for other Air Force needs.”

Wilson threatened in a tweet that the Air Force may have to cut more projects if Congress does not pass a disaster relief bill.

“These are just the 1st decisions we had to make…We will be forced to cut more critical facility & readiness requirements if we don’t receive it by May/June,” she tweeted.

Wright–Patterson also currently faces the possibility of cuts or delayed funding for already–approved construction projects, including the first installment toward a $182 million building to house the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson. NASIC is currently housed in an outdated, World War II–era building.

But that funding is now at risk because the Trump administration is seeking military construction money through an emergency declaration to help pay for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. In all, $112 million worth of such projects might be at risk in Ohio.

Dayton Daily News reporter Max Filby contributed to this story.

The Dayton Daily News this week published a series of stories on the impact of Wright-Patterson Air Force base in the Dayton region.

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